Europe, religious or secular

Article published on Dec. 4, 2009
community published
Article published on Dec. 4, 2009
A shining example of unity and diversity Rabbi Arthur Schneier President of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, Senior rabbi, Park East Synagogue, New York It is difficult to comprehend how the very same continent which gave rise to great universal ideals of liberty and freedom could also be the birthplace of nationalism, Communism and Fascism.
Europe has been at the center of creating the ideas and events that have determined much of the story of modernity. Unfortunately, so many of her great scholastic and cultural achievements have been overshadowed by the wars she has fought with herself and her neighbors. As a Vienna-born Holocaust survivor, I experienced the best and worst of what Europe had to offer. Happily, I lived to see Europe emerging from the ravages of World War II focused on learning and helping teach others the harsh lessons of history. From the establishment of the European Community through Maastricht, she now looks to curb nationalist tendencies with continental agreements and international cooperation. Requirements for entry into the European Union are a commitment to democratic governance and respecting the dignity of every human being. The great moral and ethical challenge facing Europe today is how she will show understanding and respect of the other and cope with cultural and religious differences. For over a millennium, Jews have resided in European lands, making their contribution to society in culture, the arts, medicine, the sciences, yet enduring persecution and acts of discrimination. Until the Holocaust, expressions of cultural exclusion and hatred were largely ignored, contrary to what some may like to think they still color too much of contemporary Europe. Regrettably, rabid nationalism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism have resurfaced, particularly at this time of instability and economic hardship. We live in an age of multiple identities. Europe can become a shining example of unity and diversity as its demographic makeup continues to evolve. To preserve the timeless values of Western civilization, while respecting the dignity of a heterogeneous population, it will be essential to foster interreligious cooperation and peaceful coexistence. Although the focus of world attention has shifted somewhat in the past half century, away from Europe and toward Asia, I believe Europe still has the opportunity to play a leading role in transatlantic partnership with the United States as a guardian of democracy for a world in transition.

The spiritual foundations of Europe

Bernd Posselt

President of Pan-Europa Deutschland, member of the European Parliament for Munich

The debate about enlargement and its limits, but also about the constitutional treaty, has brought to light the question of the spiritual foundations of the EU. The first German federal president, Theodor Heuss, a liberal, once said that European culture was built on three hills: the Acropolis, the Capitol and Golgotha – in other words on Greek philosophy, on Roman legal concepts and Christianity. Looking at European cities and villages, with churches in their midst, one immediately sees that Europe never would have arisen without Christianity. But we don’t want to make a Christian museum out of Europe, but rather to live out our faith today, in our times. Christians are no longer the majority in many parts of Europe, even though European culture is still influenced by Christianity. Those who believe religion is a sideshow will have difficulties in reasonably organizing the coexistence of peoples in a world in which religiosity plays an ever-increasing role. Not just discussions about faith, but faith itself plays a growing role in greater Europe. And independently from the personal beliefs of individuals, the number of people who believe, or at least feel, that Europe has no future as a peninsula of unbelievers, and that faith rightly understood does not split and feed conflicts, but instead, can bring people together in mutual respect, is also growing.

Modern Europe and its Union

Bekir Karliga

Professor, doctor, adviser to the prime minister in Istanbul, Chairman of the Turkish Coordination Committee of the Alliance of Civilizations

Modern Europe goes beyond a mere geographical space. It’s an experience, a history and a cultural patrimony. The latter is not the fruit of a single society, nation, region, language or religion. It formed and developed during centuries, from the contributions of numerous populations stemming from various geographical locations and speaking different languages. This is why it is, in a certain sense, Chinese, Indian, Egyptian, Mesopotamian and even American. In the same way, it is equally Christian, Jewish, Muslim or even atheist. If all these cultures wouldn’t have been able to develop, would European culture be what it is today? However, it has very skillfully internalized the heritage of other cultures; it has even become one of its components. Thus, its values acquired a universal character. Whenever it attempted to impose its values forcefully on other societies, it barely obtained any satisfying results. But when it presented those values freely as a model, the values became very much in demand. Throughout her history, Europe has known how to find the suitable middle ground between extremes. Disposing of ideologies, she had the courage to look from different perspectives and was then able to achieve great accomplishments that paved the way for humanity. On the other hand, when she fell prey to obscurantism – especially when it was religiously and ideologically motivated – she could not avoid being at the mercy of a destructive vandalism. The Europe of the future should avoid these impasses from now on, and move forward on the path of reason. Without either selfishness or brutality, she should desire and meet these objectives, not only for herself but for all of humanity. This is what I expect of Europe, and it is why I ardently make the case for my country entering the European Union.